By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Who would have thought the picture of how hard work and perseverance can pay off would turn out to be Essray Taliaferro?
The Ashburn, Va., native who always seemed to save his best work for spring games has emerged as Marshall’s starting running back when the Thundering Herd hosts Miami (Ohio) at 7 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network).
Taliaferro took advantage of the absence of Conference USA Freshman of the Year Kevin Grooms, who missed most of the preseason with an injury, to establish himself as the No. 1 back. He bypassed sophomores Steward Butler and Remi Watson, both of whom saw plenty of snaps with Grooms last year.
“It means a lot that the coaches trust me enough to put me on the first team,” Taliaferro said Tuesday in a phone interview. “We want to get started right away on getting a win not only for us but for the town of Huntington.”
In his first press conference of the season, Holliday praised Taliaferro for the work he has put in to get to this point.
“It started during summer conditioning, and he had a great camp,” Holliday said. “He’s worked extremely hard and every day after practice he’s in there watching tape on his own. He’s matured an awful lot and he’s a good player. He deserves to be where he is with the leadership he has provided during camp.”
Taliaferro, who changed his jersey number from 42 to 16, played in all 12 games for the Herd last year, getting his first career start in the season finalé at East Carolina. He set a career high with 130 yards and scored two touchdowns, and he caught three passes for 50 yards.
There was also some bad — his fumble in the second overtime led to the Pirates’ game-winning touchdown in a 65-59 slugfest.
Taliaferro, a 5-foot-9, 183-pound redshirt senior, will learn from that, just as he will try to build on his career day.
“I took from that game that I am able to play at a high level,” he said. “I will do what I can to help the team win.”
Holliday anticipates all four backs to get carries against the RedHawks. That includes Grooms, who ran for 737 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago.
“He practiced for the most part last week,” Holliday said. “He should be fine by Saturday. He’s worked his tail off and spent a lot of time in the training room. He should be fine and ready to go.”
Taliaferro isn’t taking Miami lightly, even if the Herd has been installed as a 17-point favorite. He understands the roots of the rivalry that used to exist between the teams when they were Mid-American Conference foes in the late-1990s until Marshall’s exit in 2005.
“They are a good team,” Taliaferro said. “It’s going to be a big game for them and a big game for us. It was an old-school rivalry and we’re all taking it seriously.”
Just like the Marshall coaches are treating Taliaferro.
— E-mail: gfauber@